Councillors will again consider kyboshing plans for five more years of Aberdeen’s business improvement district (Bid) this morning.
If invoked, it would mean the Bid – responsible for the NuArt street art festival, restaurant week, international comedy festival and Christmas Village in Broad Street – would be wound up 10 years after its inception.
Only three months ago, the same urgent business committee voted to allow the ballot to go ahead but it was later delayed by Aberdeen Inspired bosses.
The legally required poll had been due to take place on Match 25 – and councillors have again been advised to arrange the ballot for June 24 by chief city growth officer Richard Sweetnam.
Council officers, led by chief governance officer Fraser Bell, would oversee the summer plebiscite.
The Bid is funded through a mandatory annual levy of all eligible firms within its designated city centre area – who all get a vote in its future.
Five years ago, 63% of votes cast were in favour of renewal – though companies with multiple qualifying properties within the district get more than one say.
Aberdeen Inspired takes in a little under £1 million annually from around 800 businesses , which stretches the length of Union Street and from John Street in the north to Union Square in the south.
All companies based in buildings with rateable values – the commercial equivalent of council tax bands – above £27,499 are required to pay.
Due to the hardship caused by trading restrictions in the pandemic, Aberdeen Inspired boss Adrian Watson announced levy bills would be halved for the last financial year.
Delaying March’s ballot has left the Bid in a curious position, essentially on pause for this 12-week extension without collecting rates.
This did not stop the operator last week from announcing the hiring of Essex-based Momentum Wayshowing to hang 12 illuminated street signs signs around the district for a cost of £400,000.
Council documents have revealed Aberdeen Inspired anticipates spending around £40,000 developing its proposals for the next five years and canvassing votes.
‘This voice will be needed more than ever’
Chief executive Adrian Watson last night said a positive result would help “protect the diversity, vibrancy and safety” of Aberdeen, and bring further “compelling reasons” to visit the city centre through cultural events.
He told The P&J: “Aberdeen Inspired has remained a steadfastly vocal and united force in the city during the pandemic. This voice will be needed more than ever as we embark on the road to recovery.
“Aberdeen and the north-east can only stand out as an attractive, worthwhile place to visit, study, live and work if it has a vibrant and appealing city centre that is rich in culture, retail and entertainment.
“Aberdeen Inspired’s programmes and activities, which have helped rejuvenate the city centre over the last five years, will be vital in restoring city centre confidence.
“We find ourselves seeking a positive vote in a ballot at the worst possible time when every business is challenged financially so the postponement, albeit of only a few months, is welcome. It means that the ballot will open as city centre businesses are also starting to re-open.
“We will be shortly unveiling our business plan for the next five years. This statutory document sets out how we will play a vital part in reshaping the city centre to meet the challenges post-Covid.”
Councillors were to be briefed on the business plan in private this morning, having rapped Bid bosses over the knuckles for failing to provide them with it back in June.
At urgent meeting SNP group leader Alex Nicoll said he was “disappointed” not to “necessarily have all the information” before being asked to allow the ballot.
The local authority – which will decide how to use its several votes in the potential ballot at a full meeting in June – can only veto at this stage for very specific reasons, including conflict with its own work or that the levy would could be seen to have a “significantly disproportionate financial burden” on people.
Taking those considerations into account, Mr Sweetnam said: “It is considered that the council should not veto the proposals and that the holding of the ballot on June 24 should be formally instructed.”